Saturday, October 28, 2023

a thousand novembers

 I am approaching these last few days of  October and the first couple of weeks of November quietly and unobtrusively with my head down, careful not to touch anything. It occurred to me this summer that this period, particularly early November, has historically been a strange time for me that has either brought amazingness or tragedy, but it's hard to know which. 

In 2000, I got the library job that would basically move me to this city and keep me occupied for slightly more than two decades at a time when I was struggling both mentally and financially. I interviewed for it the day after Halloween and was hired on Veteran's Day. I almost didn't go since we'd been up late watching horror movies and gorging on candy the night before. Even in the city, almost talked myself out of the interview since I felt like it was a long shot. But I went, and it entirely changed the course of my life.

In 2005, I'd spent the past couple of years submitting various incarnations of my first book to contests and open reading periods, and while I would occasionally land a bridesmaid spot, was beginning to lose hope. I'd done a massive restructuring over the summer and had queried and submitted the manuscript, by then officially called the fever almanac, to the press ultimately said yes the second week of November. I was getting ready for work and my sister, who was staying with me intermittently, picked up and passed off the phone which I always let go to voice mail.  Exactly a year later, that book was coming into the world, though it was slightly eclipsed by the euphoria of a relationship that would prove very long and very toxic and a recent bout of mono that left me sick on and off for a year. November was a weird month for romance other random years in various degrees as well, alternating between ecstatic and comically abysmal.

Though my mom's health problems had begun the previous February, she died that first week of November in 2017 after a quick end-of-summer decline and a seeming rebound in October. My dad followed five years and a week later. A year ago, he went into the hospital and did not come out. If your parents are going to die any time of year, this time seems worse since that early encroaching darkness and daylight savings always make me a little stir-crazy under even the best of mental circumstances.  So it's a severe, acute sadness and depression on top of a general lower register annual sad and I am sometimes amazed I was even able to weather it (mostly) intact at all.

I've never quite known what to do with that gap between Halloween festivities and the distraction that is Thanksgiving and the commencement of the holidays. All I know is that it's dark and filled with sharp things hopefully I make it out alive. 

Thursday, October 26, 2023

happy endings and horror


There has been much more pre-Halloween horror on the big screen this week, both favorites in my top horror films that I have seen (and in The Shining's case, many many times.) The other was the Midsommar director's cut, which we initially saw the shorter version in the theaters in 2019, which with covid running amuck since, may as well have been a decade ago. There are things about the two films that seem to make them fair companions, including those glorious creative aerial shots. The scariest part of Midsommar is actually probably the first few minutes, while I would say the last part of The Shining, when Wendy is under attack and sees the hotel's ghosty secrets, is the most horrific part of that movie. In between there is a lot of slow creeping dread on the part of both. 

Midsommar of course feels like a movie with a weird, but kind of happy ending when Florence Pugh's character sheds her douche-bag gaslighting boyfriend, probably in the same way The Shining is a happy ending in that she loses an alcoholic abusive husband trying to drive an ax into her. Of course, I think while most would agree that Jack Torrance is a villain all along, well before the hotel, not as many are willing to say Christian got his karmic resolution in the sacrifice. And yet, he fails spectacularly at being a good boyfriend or friend, or even a good person, long before he does anything as mundane as cheating while under the influence of a sunny Scandinavian cult. The cheating is sort of irrelevant at that point in the movie.

Saturday, October 21, 2023

notes & things | 10/21/2023


It's been a whirl of a week, that included not two nights out in a row, but three, with a concert at the Salt Shed, the Frankenstein ballet at the Lyric, and another trip out to the McHenry drive-in and an overnight stay to avoid driving back to the city so late. My tiny introverted heart that prefers to stay at home is exhausted, but each was fun in its own way. The concert was music I was not at all familiar with going in,--another project from the lead singer of Primus, one of J's faves.  The ballet was creepy and beautifully danced and made some interesting choices in how they adapted the novel.  I found myself still always marveling what Shelley created at only 17 and its embeddedness in our culture.

McHenry was awash in fall foliage almost at its peak if not already, and we managed to land a room at a little non-chain hotel that sat perched on the Fox River with a balcony view that was much nicer than last time's Super 8. We saw the new Exorcist (meh) and Nightmare on Elm Street, which was strange to see on a big screen after almost four decades of smaller ones. We managed to stay pretty warm just closed up in the car with snacks and a thermos of boozy minty hot chocolate. We'll be headed back in early December, but we will definitely need the heater and some blankets by then.

This week before Halloween brings a couple more movie nights, it being the high season of horror and us having our evenings free this year after almost a decade of conflicting work schedules. We're heading over to the Logan for a late-night screening of The Shining (which I watch every fall and which I have seen on the screen, though I was only 6 at the drive-in) and then on Wednesday to see the director's cut of Midsommar that is back in theaters (we saw the original when it came out, but neither has seen the full uncut version and its one of my horror favorites from the last few years.).

Otherwise, I have tinkered with a few chap layouts whose releases are nigh in late October and thinking about projects and book manuscripts, including when I might like to release GRANATA which is looking to be a more art-oriented publishing project than text (which is there, obviously, but it will be accompanied by full-color collages in a format that is more art-book than traditional poetry collection.)

The drag I was feeling when it came to writing appears to have abated and maybe it's all because I have been consuming more than creating for a couple weeks..horror films and the Poe series and Frankenstein through dance. If these things have enduring value centuries later, maybe not all is lost in a sea of feeling unseen and unheard in the moment, a struggle all artists and writers feel at some point. 

Sunday, October 15, 2023

darkness and bluster: thoughts on Poe


I spent parts of the weekend digesting the whole of Netflix's Fall of the House of Usher, something I have been waiting for for over a year, being a huge Mike Flanagan fan and lover of Poe in general. It was everything I expected and more--a modern day gothic chilling tale of corporate greed and evil, of extreme moral ambiguousness, set within the frames of Poe stories and poems. And so many poems, enough to make this writer and one-time English major, quiver with delight. I found myself thinking about Poe and how well it all holds together, even nearly 170 years later. How influential his work still is on the literary consciousness of writers, despite his entire life and career riddled with depression and addiction. How Flanagan takes the work and bends it into something new, yet immensely true to the original. 

I first encountered Poe in junior high--in things like "The Raven" and "The Telltale Heart" (both of which get great treatment in the series) but it was "Annabelle Lee" that caught my attention as a fledgling diary-scribbling poet of 16. So much so that I briefly joined something called  the "Poetry Club"  led by my junior year English teacher who taught it the next year, though my involvement was limited due to play rehearsals and newspaper obligations.  I remember a couple of meetings with desks arranged in a circle while other students read their work. At the time, I was writing but would have been too terrified to share. Later, in college, I would spend a spooky cider-sipping Halloween evening reading Poe's "Cask of Amontillado"  at an English Dept event in the lounge what was later rumored to be a haunted dorm. Throughout my two literary-focused degrees, Poe was a constant companion, including in a grad class devoted entirely to the American Renaissance of the 1850s. Even in the past couple of years, there have been Poe-related lesson assignments--about American Romanticism and some of the short stories. 

I often think about the Greeks and how pervasively their stories remain in Western thought, but Poe is up there on the list as well. For all of Poe's wraith-like rants against other writers and his worry that he was an utmost failure (all too often related), he manages to stick. Beautifully horrific things still bear his fingerprints. While if you asked me who I liked more, I would say Nathaniel Hawthorne (who examined similar ideas with a little more subtleness), I still love Poe for all his darkness and bluster, which make the series an especially delightful experience that also got me thinking about my recent waffling in regard to writing poems. How I often feel like no one is listening and maybe no one is. But then Poe thought this as well. So maybe I just need to leave my worries to time and allow the chips to fall where they may. 

Friday, October 13, 2023

windswept, reckless

 Tonight, I recorded an older poem as one of my #31daysofhalloween bits. A poem that I realized with a start was probably written exactly 20 years ago--given that it's about fall and dusk and cemeteries and just very Octoberish. I believe it was workshopped in my very first MFA workshop, but I think the shine had worn off by October. Up til then, each week the instructor had everyone vote on their favorite, all the poems passed out with no names, and for the first 6 weeks, each week I was the awkward winner. It was something I wanted but also did not want. Granted, the poems were decent, though not spectacular, and there were better poems on the part of a couple others, though they were more experimental and less liked by all. There was no ribbon or prize, but it did mean some people really started to hate me for it and then were gunning for me the rest of the semester and into the next. 

Because I kept winning, the instructor discontinued the voting, later saying in a conference at the end of the semester that it seemed like my classmates had grown tired of my poems. And maybe he was right.  That first semester in my MFA program, I was already doing the things poets do, publishing and entering contests and shopping around that first crude version of the book. I was also a few years older than my peers, it being my second rodeo of grad school with a small gap between. It got worse before it got better. By the spring, things were so vicious I carried a printed-out copy of a really nice journal acceptance letter to stop myself from bursting into tears. 

The poem in question, "fugue," (which you can also read here at Tryst) is not really the best poem in the now long out-of-print THE FEVER ALMANAC, where it later appeared, but it is quite appropo to the season. so I chose to record that one specifically tonight on my little microphone before making a short video for it. It's also not the worst (incidentally that poem before it in Tryst was so bad it didn't even make the book.). It was strange to hear my voice move over the words--so familiar and yet strangely unfamiliar. There are a few creepier poems in that first book, including one about Bloody Mary legends. Others about ghosts and rundown hotels and flooded subways. There were times when I liked that fledgling first book less, but in recent years I look at it far more generously given everything that has come after it. There are even a couple of poems late in the book like "sangria," "night drive" and "predictions" that I really love. 

Over the years the poems have piled up and piled on. And of course, they've gotten darker, if that's possible. I took the opportunity to read aloud just to myself, but not record, several other pieces in that book and maybe I should do it more often. Maybe just as a way to connect with that past writerly self to keep going. I read some pieces and maybe get just a little charge like I did back when it was all shiny and new. Not huge, but maybe just enough....

Wednesday, October 11, 2023

fall and memory

Time bends and flips back on itself sometimes.  In Lincoln Park where I once lived, it's always fall. I am always 23 or 24 and taking grad school classes in Victorian novels and middle English romances. The leaves are always red or yellow or brown. Always on the ground or just barely hanging on. The past couple movie outings have taken us to theaters in that neighborhood and every time it's like a trip back into memory, especially this time of year. 

Different neighborhoods have different smells and sometimes its hard to discern what makes each unique. While obviously, certain places smell different in different seasons, LP always smells like crushed leaves, Italian food, and peppermint tea for me. That first fall, I remember waiting anxiously for my excess student loan funds check to come in the mail, mostly so I could buy food, but also so I could buy books, which I would read, prone on my single mattress, later a futon, devouring novels and bagels with cream cheese and tea while the city turned to fall for the first time outside my windows.  When my sister was visiting, we'd walk around the streets at night and look in all the wealthy people's windows..the huge greystones and brick 3 stories lined with Pottery Barn furniture and big screen TVs.  Meanwhile, until the following spring, I watched what few channels and a handful of VHSes on a small black and white screen in an apartment that barely fit a bed and my bathroom was technically in the closet. 

In a year, I would be writing poems hardcore and sending out what would garner my first acceptance. In two years, I would have my degree and be back in Rockford, working at the elementary school. But that first fall, I floated a little more aimlessly. By spring, it would be obvious to me teaching was not for me, but then I still thought it was a possibility. I'd moved in over the summer, working briefly at a Starbucks before just kind of floating on credit cards till the semester started.  

While that neighborhood is far too bougie and expensive to live in as anything but a student, its still one of my favorites for its tree-lined streets and tiny parks. Edgewater is bigger, newer, and the trees, a lot of them re-planted in the past three decades due to the ash-borers that terrorized the neighborhood. It's also cheaper and closer to the water.  But the larger trees in Lincoln Park still stand and drop their leaves every fall on luxury SUV's and the occasional brick alleyway. In LP, it still smells and looks like 1997...

Monday, October 09, 2023

glimmers and shadows

When I have dreams about poetry, about BEING a poet, they are never good ones. While I once embraced all the work of writing and getting one's work out there, engaging in communities that were new to me, and embracing opportunities (or trying to), I have a hard time finding a path back to the excitement of my late 20s, even though what I am writing, the meat and potatoes of it, feels stronger than ever. And that may, in fact, be the rub. When I was a baby poet and gained any sort of ground, I was simply so grateful to be invited to tables and conversations. By this far down the road, nothing is new, not even me or my work. And while it's probably better than I was, the shine has long worn off. I've seen too much of the ugly underside of po-biz, the patterns and backscratching that calls itself community but disappears once the deal is settled and the ink is dry. Have seen authors behave terribly to each other. Have confirmed that what I thought was an uphill path is probably blocked and bottlenecked and maybe isn't even a path at all but a roughly wrought patch of mud we mistook for a path. 

So the poems still come, and when they do, they do not usually disappoint, but the why becomes foggy and too obscured. I will wake up and vow to become a different kind of writer altogether--a screenwriter penning horror movies, my other great love, or a novelist, making real the stories that exist nowhere but my head. I say I will write memoir or design books. Film criticism or play scripts. Anything but this medium I chose wholeheartedly when I was 24 and that has guided the course of my creative life. It's like soul mate you know is going to be a nightmare down the road, that its attentions are fickle and filled with emotional booby traps. You know it would burn you to the ground before you stop it. 

And yet, there are days when you get a crumb. A glimmer in mostly sand. Yesterday, it was an acceptance from a round of summer submissions--a journal I'd been in before but a favorite. There are several still lingering but the writing gods and odds dictate they will likely be rejections if those responses come back at all.  I knew going in, even when I was 19 and shuttling off work, that rejection was part of the game. But somehow I suspected things would get easier, not harder down the line. It's only gotten harder, and as time goes on, even with a steady little diet of successes, the monster called hunger is at the door. 

Many writers do a good job of separating the creative process from audience and engagement entirely. This has never been my way. And perhaps that is the problem. I do not know a way out any more than I know a way in. 

Thursday, October 05, 2023

scary little girls

Last night, we got to see the original The Exorcist on the big screen for its 50 anniversary in preparation for viewing the latest on in a couple of weeks out at the drive-in. I hadn't seen the original probably since I was in high school, so there were things I noticed now that I would never have noticed then, including that the first approach, even before counseling and psychiatry was to put the poor girl on ritalin as a way to address behavior problems, which then spiraled through spinal taps and medical interventions toward its inevitable conclusion. What to do with a misbehaving child, demons or no..a point emphasized by Father Damien's mention that exorcisms were no longer the norm given all we know about the human body and mind coming out of a much darker age when psychological and physical disorders like bipolar and epilepsy were labeled demon interference.

Exorcism and possession movies are much less my jam than other types of horror, perhaps because I am not really religious enough to fear things like demons and the devil. While any number of ghosts and monsters can still set my heart racing, I have little patience for many of the demonic possession movies and all the Catholic mechanization that usually accompanies them. But they are an intriguing genre as a whole. 

I also couldn't help noticing the idea of single motherhood that sometimes accompanies horror.  I would have pegged certain kinds of movies that cast it in unfavorable light as 80s things, but in The Exorcist, you have not only a single mother, but a single wealthy mother in the entertainment industry. One whose child is mostly looked after by assistants and butlers and for which things go horribly awry. That feminist age trope or idea that while you are bringing home the bread and in the workplace, your children are getting up to all sorts of horrifying activity (hello, Satanic Panic.)

Sunday, October 01, 2023

notes & things | 10/1/2023

This weekend included a jaunt out to Rockford--old movies and terrible new ones, some edibles, and a mini-golf outing under a giant moon (at which point I think I overestimated my mini-golfing abilities on said edibles and wound up just hanging more than playing.) The hotel had a beautiful view of the highway and the steady thrum of trucks, but it had a strangely comfortable bed for a sufficient bargain. We have somehow reached October, though the temperatures and clear, bright sun tell a different tale the past few days. 

I am working on plotting "31 Days of Halloween" social media content tonight for a good chunk of the month. I'll be sharing bits and pieces both old and new from my spookier work (which is of course most of it--either intentionally or no.) Some new bits will be coming this way in terms of more video poems, some spooky reels and artwork some new publications, at least one new zine, and maybe some news regarding upcoming things on the way. While a couple new poems have wriggled their way out of the ground, I am still not back to full productivity, but October can sometimes be a fruitful time even with the landscape dying off and folding in for the winter. November is never particularly kind to me, as the last few years have attested, so I am determined to enjoy thoroughly what comes before it.

October does mean horror movies in abundance and we're starting tonight with one of my favorites that J has not seen--Trick R Treat. Later this week, we hope to catch a 50-year anniversary screening of The Exorcist  which seems chronologically impossible, and yet there it is. We'll be seeing the new one at the drive-in mid-month, when we plan to scrounge up enough blankets and hot beverages to weather the double feature, which includes the original Nightmare on Elm Street--a movie I saw first on VHS as a kid. There are also ballets and new releases, and a haunted soiree set for Halloween that I landed tickets for last week at the Museum of Surgical Science to round out the end of the month.